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World Music CD Reviews Africa

Various Artists

By Phil Freeman
Published March 13, 2007

Lagos All Routes
Honest Jon’s/Astralwerks

Lagos Chop Up
Honest Jon’s/Astralwerks

NIGERIA

Compilations aren’t always great. Few would seriously argue that the TV-advertised output of K-Tel Records represents any kind of genuinely rewarding auditory experience. But a really good comp can change the unsuspecting listener’s whole world, and the ones that successfully do that become legendary touchstones, revered for decades. This Are Two Tone. The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto. The Tokyo Flashback series. All these were keys unlocking whole new worlds of music for eager freaks, and these two Honest Jon’s compilations of Nigerian juju, Afro-beat, highlife, apala and fuji do the trick, too.

Anybody who presses “play” on either volume (and it’s effectively impossible to choose between them) while being familiar only with Fela and King Sunny Ade is volunteering to have the top of their head unscrewed like a mayonnaise jar lid, and a steaming heap of raw jungle genius poured in. Note well that this is not music that makes a fetish of its foreign-ness: the tracks selected were culled from discs purchased by Blur and Gorillaz leader Damon Albarn while on working vacation, so they’re capable of shaking even pasty English asses.

A cut like the Lagos All Routes-opening “Eyi Yato/Elere Ni Wa” medley from Ebenezer Obey takes a whirring sound similar to one heard on Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady” and makes it one element in a spinning, cavorting 11-minute Afro-funk monster jam that could induce hip dysplasia in the unwary. And it’s not like either disc drops off in quality after that lobotomizingly great opening. For just about two hours, these twin discs send the listener’s ears and brain caroming all over the room, and repeated plays do nothing to diminish the sense of wonderment and raw joy they conjure. Quite possibly the reissues of the year, these are absolutely essential listening for anyone with a pulse.